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Neon Seas and Ink Mountains: 7 New Games from China’s Exciting Indie Scene

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We’ve played as overbearing Chinese parents. Seen China through the eyes of young, queer men. Ran a code-violating restaurant with monster chefs.

Chinese indie games had a bright 2018, with publishers like Shanghai-based Coconut Island and Zodiac Interactive breaking through the Steam charts and finding occasional critical acclaim. China-developed games now feature more regularly on game jams and indie award lists, and are finding a crossover audience that the bigger AAA titles have sometimes struggled with. And if the recently concluded annual Indieplay Awards are any indication, 2019 promises to be brighter, weirder and more ambitious.

Here’s a roundup of some exciting games (both recent and upcoming) coming out of the indie development scenes in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan:

Devotion還願 (Red Candle Games, Feb 2019)

This one looks fantastic. Devotion, out February 19, is a first-person atmospheric horror game depicting the descent into darkness of a 1980s Taiwan apartment complex. The game draws heavily on the spooky bits of Taiwanese culture and mythology. It’s by Red Candle Games, whose last game was the excellent Detention, a 2017 survival horror title set in 1960s Taiwan.

A nice bonus is the furious soundtrack (for the trailer, at least), courtesy one of Taipei’s buzziest bands: No Party for Cao Dong.

DYING: Reborn (NEKCOM Entertainment, Out now on PC/Switch)

On the horror tip, also check out this just-released escape room horror title from Wuhan’s NEKCOM, and published by Shanghai’s Coconut Island, who also published the viral Chinese Parents game that stormed the Steam charts a few months ago. It’s not been getting the greatest of reviews, but worth a look for its monsters, which resemble messed-up versions of popular WeChat stickers.

Ink, Mountains and Mystery (Netease Games, Out now on iOS/Android)

An Okami-like action-adventure, this new title from Netease Games takes classic brush-stroke paintings and transforms them into beautiful, 3D worlds. Set partly within the Song Dynasty-era scroll painting A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains (千里江山), it’s a languid, charming game of gentle visual pleasures.

Tales of the Neon Sea 迷雾侦探 (Palm Pioneer, Feb 2019)

A gorgeous, pixel-art cyberpunk adventure set in a near-future Chengdu, Tales of the Neon Sea is the localized English version of 迷雾侦探, a 2018 title that racked up every visual art prize in the recent Indieplay Awards. Out sometime in February (with a demo you can download now), Tales of the Neon Sea promises a “twisting story of mystery and suspense” in a world where humans and robots distrust each other, and gangster cats scheme their way to the top of the food chain.

Publisher Zodiac Interactive is one of the rising names in China’s indie games realm, best known for its artsy Candleman, a curious little puzzle game where you play as a candle who can only stay lit for 10 seconds.

Ancient Abyss 轮回深渊 (Screambox Studio, Spring 2019)

Another from the Zodiac stable, Ancient Abyss is an upcoming “Rogue Zelda,” an action-adventure where you explore a randomly generated world in every run. The art style looks gorgeous, somewhere between classic Zelda pixel-art and the jagged, surreal alien landscapes of recent hits like Hyper Light Drifter.

Pluck It: Hairs and Emotions 拔条毛 毛与情感 (Ka Seng Chou, out now on iOS)

A weird and wonderful little mobile game from Hong Kong, Pluck It… sees you plucking hairs for fun and profit. Can you calm down a hair on fire? Can you stop hair from crying? It’s a speedy little journey that cruises along at 100 wtfs-per-second. Highly recommended.

OPUS: Rocket of Whispers 灵魂之桥 (SIGONO Interactive, out now on PC)

Opus, many years in the making, is a stark, post-apocalyptic adventure from Taiwan’s SIGONO team about searching a snowy wasteland for answers and closure. It sets an absolutely gorgeous mood, and won big for its moody narrative at the 2018 Indieplay Awards.

These 7 games barely scratch the game map — there are tons of titles, game jam experiments, live interactive art experiences and more out in the fog of war beyond the starting play area. Gamecores is a good site to follow for the latest from the Chinese gaming world, as is Indienova.

Perhaps the most exciting shift of all in 2019 is that Chinese indie developers no longer need to shoehorn “Chinese cultural elements” into their work — they’re just making exciting games for the whole world.

Cover photo: A cyberpunk vision of near-future Chengdu from Palm Pioneer’s Tales of the Neon Sea

Krish Raghav
Krish Raghav works for the Concrete & Grass Music Festival (concreteandgrass.cn) in Shanghai. He shares his hometown with Dhalsim from Street Fighter, but cannot shoot fireballs from his face.